► Volvo S90 saloon tested in the UK
► 235bhp 4cyl diesel; 0-62mph in 7.0sec
► On sale now for £42,055
Volvo wants to smash your company car park full of E-Classes, 5 Series, A6s and XFs with its new Thor’s Hammer. Built on the same SPA (Scaleable Product Architecture) platform as the impressive XC90, the S90 and V90 twins are the latest attempts to wow, and on first inspection they look fantastic in UK spec for our first drive over here.
Along with those hybrid day-running light/indicators shaped like the mythical god’s weapon (really, Volvo?), the simplistic yet distinctive styling sets them apart. We reckon, however, that just like the Kia Optima Sportswagon, the V90 is the more attractive of the pair.
The three-box saloon we’re driving’s rear end seems overly fussy to the point of looking incongruous. Maybe that’s one reason Volvo is only expecting to sell a quarter as many as the estate.
Swedish interior design: is it like Ikea on four wheels inside?
The S90's interior looks great. Just like the flagship SUV’s cabin, the S90’s is gigantic and stylishly Swedish. It's way different from what you'll find in a typical Teutonic exec. Just check out those fillets in the doors, finished in textured wood meant to ape higher-quality (read: not flatpack) furniture from Scandinavian climes. It's gorgeous.
Poke around a bit and you’ll soon find areas where value has been shaved to lower costs, though. Curiously the inside of the cold metal door handles (the bit you actually touch) feels like cheap plastic, and lower down the doors and around the centre console the plastics employed are edging closer to Primark than premium. Shame.
So what’s under the skin of the S90?
There are some curious technical differences to other rivals in the sector. To accommodate the transverse engine, the front suspension features a double wishbone arrangement rather than the nearly ubiquitous MacPherson struts. This eradicates diagonal roll – the pitch forward under braking in corners – says Volvo.
Out back, you’ll find a transverse leaf spring arrangement, which Volvo has used previously – it’s just like the set-up in a Corvette. These are meant to provide a stable, assured drive rather than outright handling prowess, but what’s the result? Just that. It’s accessible, but not memorable.
Volvo S90 ride and handling
Shown a corner, two things become immediately apparent: the steering is sharp but numb and overly weighted, which adds unwanted heft at the helm in apparent contrast with the easy-going nature of the S90, and the optional adaptive suspension (featuring air on the rear axle) is too fidgety for our tastes. It never seems to settle into a well-damped rhythm because when you hit a bump, it’s still trying to absorb the previous one.
The resulting unsettled demeanour seems at odds with what are some of the comfiest, most supportive seats in the sector. Incidentally, we tried the standard steel suspension too, and that feels a far better tune for UK roads. Save yourself £1500.
During our Volvo S90 review we didn’t get close to testing the AWD system’s capabilities, but compared with a front-driven V90 this one instantly felt more composed. You can instantly sense the latter’s front wheels tugging away at the chassis. We'd spec our D5 with all-wheel drive.
Is it two cylinders short of a party?
Despite the fact that our test car had double-glazed windows installed, that turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine sang a little bit too loudly for our ears. It’s certainly not what you’d call a nice noise, either – it’s a chuntering rattle characteristic of four-pot diesels.
This motor’s installed with Powerpulse, which is a newly developed air pump that fills a pressure tank and injects air into the turbo, helping it spool quicker. Volvo claims this means it takes off quicker than rival V6s, but on the road it’s impossible to detect. It simply feels generic with a little more go than the D4. Entirely predictable - with little sizzle to make this clever tech stand out.
The downsized engine is probably the Volvo’s biggest Achilles heel. The firm has chosen to disregard displacement in favour of turbocharging and electrical assistance, which ignores the fact that cars of this size and type are at their best fitted with lazy torque-laden six-pots. Mind you, many typical customers won't notice or care about the switch from six and five to four...
What about all the safety kit?
Volvo goes to great lengths to pronounce its safety credentials to anyone who’ll listen, and a large part of that plan is the drip-fed introduction of autonomous driving technology. This S90 features the latest version of Pilot Assist, which we’re familiar with from our long-term XC90, but is now effectual up to 80mph. It’s able to take care of the steering, throttle and braking while you’re on the motorway. There’s one big caveat here, though: you have to keep your hands on the steering wheel.
And while this is all well and good, its application left us more disconcerted than anything else. The system’s meant to position the car in the middle of the lane you’re in, but our experience had us feeling far too close to the left-hand side. In the inside lane it feels like the car’s steering you onto the rumble-strip, but over-taking a truck is frankly terrifying.
A Volvo engineer claimed there are some aerodynamic ‘issues’ when passing traffic at speed as you get sucked towards larger vehicles if the closing speed is high, which seems a reasonable thing to say in a scientific sense, but why hasn’t this been ironed out for production?
The result is a battle. You’re constantly trying to reason with the car’s extremely firm counter-inputs, which after 10 seconds is annoying and soon afterwards becomes infuriatingly tiring. We just turned it off. Still, the adaptive cruise control works smoothly and intuitively.
So, what else is new on the 2017 Volvo S90?
Another safety first on the S90/V90 combo is Run-off-road Mitigation, which again has the car steering for you, this time if it sense you’re wandering off the blacktop. Apparently one third of all accidents in Sweden are of this type, so there’s a genuine need for such a system. However, in a startling display of irony for a brand so proud of its heritage, it also makes a Scandinavian flick an absolute impossibility.
We were surprised to note the Sensus navigation beginning to show a few cracks in its armour, too. Ask too much of it – such as rapid zooming in or out on a map – and it locks up like a five-year-old PC. It’s also difficult to operate in some situations too, because the icons on the touchscreen are too small to locate easily with your fingertips.
We’re big fans of the integration of the optional Bowers and Wilkins speaker system, however. Metal grilles hide what look like metal eyeballs, all the while exuding quality in our eyes only matched by the Bermester system Mercedes offers for extra cash.
The S90 D5 isn’t a bad crack at a premium D-segment machine, despite the comments above. Many rivals have similar issues, and others to boot, so the Swede is definitely worthy of consideration.
That’s right up until you try the E-Class which - when specced correctly - roundly trounces it in every department except price, albeit in a more mature, less interesting package.
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